Expanding individualism : moral responsibility for social structural harms
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The central concern of this thesis is the examination of individual agents’ moral responsibilities in large-scale social structures. I begin with a discussion of the emergence of social structural harm and the history of the collective responsibility debate. I suggest that previous attempts to make accurate responsibility ascriptions in cases of social structural harm have fallen short, leaving responsibility for the harm caused underdetermined. Arguing that collectivist approaches to large-scale harms are inadequate, because those participating in social structures cannot satisfy the criteria for responsibility-bearing groups required by these accounts, I turn to an attempt to provide an individualist account of responsibility in these cases presented by Young. I argue that there are many interesting ideas in her work that support an account of collective responsibility for social structures, but that her specific attempt to develop a new kind of non-moral responsibility ultimately fails. I therefore examine an alternative account of joint responsibility based on agent motivation and attitude presented by Bjornsson, who focusses on the reasons why agents become involved and complicit in collective harms. Through the further development of Bjornsson’s discussion of the importance of agent motivation and participation in harmful practices, and Young’s analysis of the relationship between individual agents and social structures, I suggest an alternative approach to analysing social structural harm: expanded individualism. To support this account, I analyse the ways in which agents come to be involved in these harms in a blameworthy manner, and the reasons why participation makes individuals responsible for addressing the harms caused by the social structures in which they participate.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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